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  • Words: Warren Ellis
  • Art: D'Israeli
  • Inks: D'Israeli
  • Story Title: SVK
  • Publisher: BERG
  • Price: 10 pounds
  • Release Date: Jul 5, 2011

What happens when design meets comics to form a design object? Read on to discover what comic magic happens when Warren Ellis collides with design consultancy agency BERG.

Comics as an objet d’art or being an object and a comic book at the same time; SVK is an experimental publication by design consultancy agency BERG, located in London, UK and is only available online. And who better to approach for a high tech (anti-)surveillance story than comics' resident tech fetishist Warren Ellis. Coupled with D’Israeli’s tight and stylized line work, they have created a comic book that is a detective story set in the very near future that extrapolates on current technological developments. The SVK object that comes prepackaged with the comic is a stylish UV light that makes certain word balloons in the SVK comic readable when shining its light on the panels. This adds an extra dimension to the comic reading experience, dealing with themes like perception and privacy.

"Thomas Woodwind. A man of six feet or so, quite lean, with a good Patrick Stewart-ish skull fuzzed with very short pale hair. Paranoid eyes. Tending to very long black coats, with poacher’s pockets sewn on the inside. A blue tooth earpiece cupping each ear. Black gloves – no fingerprints, reduction of epithelials." Thomas Woodwind gets hired by his ex-boss to retrieve a missing product designer carrying a mysterious case, the contents of the case capable of changing the very way we look at society and reality, of paving the path to a reign of Big Brother type of future: the Strategic Vigilance Key.

Warren Ellis describes it as Franz Kafka’s Bourne Identity and it is indeed a high tech intelligent techno thriller with the Kafka element … well … largely missing I’d say; I don’t see it anyway, but nice soundbite by Ellis. The story is your basic search and rescue but Ellis always entertains with his ideas and dialogue. The main problem with the SVK comic object lies in the dimension where the area meets the object, where one needs the other to rise above themselves collectively instead of when looked at separately. In the first half of the comic, the UV gimmick is almost exclusively used to display profanities in the mind of the characters of the pages that they don’t dare utter out loud or to showcase how miserable their lives are: "rape-zombie looking bastard," "hobo AIDS salesman," "I am going to stab aunt Hettie."

In the second half, when Woodwind recovers the object, he basically gets to do what the reader has been doing all along, look into people’s thoughts which is a bit of an anticlimax to be honest. Though this does lead to some rather nice scenes, like the reclusive tech nerd with the bitching wife who suddenly sees how much his wife loves him, it’s barely used to full potential.

Part of the problem is maybe having such an established master of the comics art form illustrate your stories. Matt Brooker a.k.a. D’Israeli employs a highly graphic style, his characters’ faces and body language so expressive that sometimes the word balloons seem like so much overkill. This could be a problem born out of luxury but I wonder how many readers of SVK aren’t established comic readers who zoom right over this little annoyance? This comment is reflected in the intro by sci-fi and high tech novelist William Gibson who writes a less than inspired introduction for the comic, reminiscing about why he doesn’t really like comics only to discover that he … really liked this one. Hmmf. Luckily there’s also an essay by comics historian Paul Gravett who goes a bit into detail about the history of the word balloon which succeeds in being concise, informative and exemplary.

SVK by Warren Ellis and D’Israeli is a nice experiment about that space where art meets object and how they can work together to enhance the reader experience. I wouldn’t call it a clean success; Ellis writes a bit too much on automatic and the special effect isn’t used in a spectacular way, but at least it tries and it looks great in trying it.

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